15 March 2010

Hearing the Hidden Message in Current Events

In an insightful article called "A Blessing in Disguise," Moshe Dann wrote the following:

...Condemning a routine announcement of Israeli plans to build a new neighborhood in Jerusalem, Biden fired the first shot. Clinton added that "it was not only an insult to Biden, but an insult to the United States." ...As she put it, this was not a dispute over policy, but a deliberate attempt to humiliate the United States of America.

It suddenly struck me that it was highly significant that hurt pride was the Americans' main complaint, here at the beginning of the Passover season when we are attempting to eradicate pride from our lives.

From the Meaningful Life website:

...On the spiritual level, leaven, whose primary feature is that it rises and inflates itself, embodies pride. This explains our uncompromising rejection of chametz. Other negative traits might be tolerable, or even useful, in small, greatly diluted doses. Depression, for example, has been declared “a grave sin,”[2] for man is commanded to “serve G-d with joy”;[3] but a small dash of melancholy, counterbalanced by a hundredfold helping of joy, may serve a positive function, reflecting a necessary concern over one’s shortcomings and the commitment to rectify them. The same applies to anger, stubbornness, chutzpa, and a host of other negative character traits: as a rule, they are undesirable, yet in the proper context and in the right proportions, each has its positive applications. Arrogance and pride, however, are of such spiritual toxicity (the Talmud states that G-d says of the arrogant one, “I and he cannot dwell in the same world”[4]) that we must forgo any attempt to exploit them, and must totally eradicate them from every crevice of our hearts.[5]

The 49-Day Difference
And yet, despite the severity of the prohibition of chametz, it is only forbidden for eight days and several hours a year,[6] while other, less “toxic” elements are forbidden year-round. In other words, there is a state of being, which Passover represents, in which arrogance and pride are objectionable in any context and quantity. After “Passover,” however, chametz becomes permissible and even desirable.

This duality is also expressed in the laws governing the offerings brought to G-d in the Holy Temple in Jerusalem. In the Holy Temple, it was “Passover” all year round: all grain offerings had to be unleavened, in keeping with the divine command that, “No leaven ... may be brought as a fire-offering to G-d.”[7] This, too, reflects G-d’s utter abhorrence of arrogance and pride. Nevertheless, on the festival of Shavuot, two loaves of bread, specifically commanded to be “baked leavened,”[8] were offered in the Temple.

Thus, Passover and Shavuot represent two extremes in the desirability of pride. On Passover chametz is wholly and utterly forbidden, while on Shavuot it is not only permitted but is a mitzvah, commanded and desired by G-d.

Passover marks our birth as a people, when G-d extracted a clan of slaves from the “forty-nine gates of depravity” of Egypt and set them on the journey toward Sinai, where He took Israel as His eternal bride on Shavuot. Connecting Passover and Shavuot is the forty-nine day “Counting of the Omer”: the Torah commands that beginning on the eve of the second day of Passover, we should conduct a daily count of the days that have passed from the day after the Exodus.

The Kabbalists explain that the human personality consists of seven basic attributes (love, restraint, harmony, ambition, devotion, connection and receptiveness), reflecting the seven divine attributes (sefirot) which G-d invested in His creation. Each sefirah contains elements of all seven, making for a total of forty-nine divine channels of relation to our reality, and forty-nine corresponding traits in the human heart.[9] Thus, the Kabbalists speak of the utterly corrupt society of Egypt as a moral nadir of “forty-nine gates of depravity.” These are paralleled by “forty-nine gates of understanding”—the ladder and process by which one achieves the refinement and perfection of all elements in one’s character.

Therein lies the significance of the forty-nine day count and climb from Passover to Shavuot. On the first day of Passover, we were physically removed from the land of Egypt; yet we still had to remove the “Egypt” from within us, to cleanse our hearts and minds of the residue of two centuries of pagan environment and practice. So on the second day of Passover begins a forty-nine-day count, chronicling a daily internal exodus from another of Egypt’s “gates of depravity” and entry into another of the “gates of understanding.” After forty-nine days, we attain the internal purity required to receive the divine election and communication of Shavuot.

Hence the difference between Passover and Shavuot regarding chametz. One who is still burdened with negative drives and emotions lacks the ability to sublimate the most potent and corruptible of the heart’s traits—pride. So immediately following the Exodus, chametz is banned. It is only upon attaining the full refinement of all forty-nine compartments of the heart on Shavuot that the offering of leaven to G-d becomes a mitzvah, appropriate and desirable.

On this level, pride is no longer the self-inflating chametz of the “Passover” personality, but the selfless pride of one who has cleansed his heart of every last vestige of self-interest and has dedicated it exclusively to the service of his Creator. This is a pride not in what one is or has achieved, but an expression of the majesty of He whom he serves and whose reality he conveys in his every thought, word and deed. [10]

King Solomon wrote in Mishlei 16.18 that "Pride precedes destruction and a haughty spirit brings on a fall." It reminds me also of Yirmiyahu 49. Read it with America in mind:

...Your awe-inspiring presence has misled you, the wickedness of your heart, who dwells in the crags of the rock, who has seized the height of the hill. Even if you raise your nest as high as the eagle, I will bring you down from there---the word of Hashem. Edom shall be desolate; everyone who passes by it will be astonished and whistle over all its afflictions, like the overturning of Sodom and Gomorrah, and its neighbors---said Hashem---where no man shall dwell and no human shall sojourn....

One day, we will see the utter destruction of American pride in the same way that we witnessed the destruction of Egyptian pride. And that day is not far off.
[See also Mashiach's Wife's post on a related subject.]